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Lethbridge Bulls prepare for 2019 season with new batch of NCAA talent

WATCH ABOVE: The Lethbridge Bulls are looking for big improvements this season, with some big off-season acquisitions joining the roster. Danica Ferris has more.

With a new season on the horizon, the Lethbridge Bulls are eyeing an improvement over last year, when they went 19-29 and were ousted from the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) Playoffs in the first round.

Recruiting was front of mind over the off-season, and head coach Jesse Sawyer and his staff worked to address some of the weaknesses that were evident in 2018.

READ MORE: Playoff sweep doesn’t mean lost season for Lethbridge Bulls

“We’ve built off last year and adjusted off of our weaknesses,” Sawyer said. “Our biggest weakness last year was on the mound. It was partly a bit of recruiting, and we had some injuries at wrong times, and what could go wrong last year did.

“This year we’ve got a little bit of a longer season – they’ve added games. So the roster’s gotten a bit bigger. I have a bigger pitching staff this year, I think I have 17 on it, so we’ve got more depth that way. I’m really excited about some of our starting pitching this year, that hopefully can really get us deep into those games and then give it over to the bullpen… get it going early.”

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The Bulls added 11 NCAA Division I players to the roster over the off-season, including eight pitchers.

NCAA Division I additions: 

  • Jaden Griffin (P) – Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Evan Chenier (P) – Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Ben Erwin (P) – Niagara University
  • Cal Theal (P) – Niagara University
  • Jordan Parranto (P) – Niagara University
  • Dylan Steen (P) – Washington State University
  • Adam Macko (P) – Purdue University
  • Chase Florendine (P) – California State University Northridge
  • Grant Kerry (OF) – Boise State University
  • Parker Smejkal (OF) – University of Nebraska Omaha
  • Brett Mercier (OF) – Fairleigh Dickinson University

“I think we’re excited about the roster that we’ve compiled,” said Bulls’ President and General Manager Kevin Kvame. “Coach Sawyer’s done a great job through the off-season to put a roster on the field that we feel will be very competitive this year.

“We have a number of prospects that are coming in that are playing in Division I schools, and also younger talent… we have a couple of young pitchers coming out of Vauxhall coming in – we’re hoping that they’re going to pitch for us but there’s also a good chance that one or both go may in the draft,  which would be really exciting as well for them,” Kvame said. “We wish them well in the draft, but if they don’t sign or are able to come and pitch for us this summer, I think they would be very exciting to come out and watch… that level of talent that we would have on the team.”

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The Bulls also have 10 returning players, including 2018 WCBL Rookie of the Year Kaleb Warden (1st base) and 2018 WCBL Canadian Rookie of the Year Jaret Semeniuk (catcher). Semeniuk in particular is thrilled about the acquisition of so many high-level pitchers, as he will catch for them throughout the year.

“I’m excited for the new pitchers to come in,” Semeniuk said. “There should be a lot of big names — guys from bigger schools coming in — so that will be exciting.”

A few of those players have yet to join the Bulls as they wrap up the school year at colleges throughout North America. But getting them up to speed isn’t something that the Bulls’ staff are worried about.

“They’ve all been playing baseball all throughout the spring, so they are game-ready,” Kvame said. “They are mid-season form already, so there’s no issue with them being ready to play the game. So they just finish off their college season, and then up to the summer college season.”

“The first week is tough on every team because there’s guys still finishing up playing,” Sawyer said.

“We’ve gotten pretty lucky and minus five or six guys, we’re going to have almost the whole team there. We’re going to be good as far as starting pitching goes, our bullpen should be OK, and we’ve got plenty of position guys to make it work.”

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The Bulls will begin their season with a pair of games in Edmonton (May 25 and 26) against the Prospects before hosting their own home opener on May 30, when the Fort McMurray Giants visit Spitz Stadium.

READ MORE: Renovated Spitz Stadium opens to public on Friday

The team will also host the Eighth Annual Tanner Craswell and Mitch Maclean Memorial Kids Camp and Benefit game on May 29.